Day Two

It's fair to say today has been a long and tiring day, but absolutely fascinating and completely worth it. I suppose the easiest way to describe the day would be through the itinerary:

Opening and Lecture: 'German Occupation in Poland', 9:00 - 11:00
We began the day with a welcome and introduction from the Acting Deputy Director of the Museum and Ewa Matlak, a colleague of the Museum who was our point of contact before our arrival. Then we were passed on to Piotr Swetkiewicz, Head of the Research Department, for a lecture on the pre-war history of Oswiecim and the barracks of Auschwitz I, the plans for expansion the Nazis had begun to create, and the beginning of anti-Semitism and discrimination towards Poles in Oswiecim during this period.

Detailed tour of Auschwitz I, 11:00 - 14:00 (although overran to 14:30!)
Our tour guide, Kasha, took us to Block 2, exhibiting information on deportations and selections, Block 4 concerning extermination (where a showcase containing two tonnes of human hair can be seen, not to be photographed for ethical reasons) and Block 5 which contains more material evidence of the Nazis' crimes; 40,000 pairs of adult shoes, a tangle of glasses and eye pieces, false legs and crutches and former prisoner uniforms amongst them. In Block 6 we passed the rows of photographs of registered prisoners in the corridor, and were taken into rooms displaying the devastation of starvation in the camp and the daily life of a prisoner.
From there, we had special permission to enter Block 10, which is not open to the public as it has been kept in the condition in which it was found. This was the block used by Dr Mengele and other SS doctors to conduct medical experiments, especially the sterilisation of women. Without the lighting and any visitors, the block had a particularly eerie atmosphere, and most of the rooms (thankfully) were empty. We then went to the courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11 to see the Wall of Death before going into the basement of Block 11 to view the punishment cells - starvation, standing and windowless cells designed to torture and kill prisoners. It was also here that Zyklon B was first experimented with, on Soviet POWs.
As an additional part of the Academy tour, we visited the Commandant's garden, a place of greenery and beauty in such a hell on earth. It was hard to think that people could live such a normal life when so much horror and tragedy was taking place on their doorstep. We also passed the gallows where Commandant Hoess was hanged after his trial in 1947.
To finish the tour, we went to the only gas chamber and crematory in Auschwitz I, much of which has been reconstructed but with original parts. A final special privilege was to ascend a watchtower near the gas chamber to observe the camp from a higher level.

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The Art, Archive and Conservation Departments, 15:00 - 18:30 (actually began at 15:20 due to overrunning of lunchtime)
We assembled in the Art Department of Block 25 for a workshop led by Agnieszka Sieradzka, an art historian in the Museum. She showed us examples of artwork that prisoners were made to create by the SS, for propaganda or personal purposes, portraits and self-portraits of prisoners and post-war paintings and drawings. There were also exhibits of articles such as a rosary made out of bread, tiny sculptures of animals created from the handles of toothbrushes and a pair of shoes made from acquired materials. What struck me the most, however, was the display case housing a door from the gas chamber of either Crematorium IV or V, as this was the centrepiece of the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, held in the Museum this year.
Next, we were taken to Block 24 to the Archives Department for a talk given by Wojciech Plosa, Head of the Archives Department. He detailed the acquisition of information and showed us copied examples of profiles of SS workers, death certificates and letters sent by non-Jewish prisoners to their families (in German, so that they could be monitored and censored). Block 24 also used to house the relatively unknown camp brothel on its upper floor. Today, those rooms are used for IT services but the original doors have been kept. Unfortunately we did not get the chance to visit this floor.
Our last visit of the day was to the Conservation Deparment near the Museum entrance. There we met with Margrit Bormann, a supervisor of the department specialising in conservation of walls and stone work. She gave us a tour of each room, where we could see the ongoing conservation of objects such as suitcases, shoes and a painting found on a wooden barrack wall in Birkenau. Margrit outlined the difficulties in knowing which method to use for which type of material, and stressed that there was no renovation work done as the department does not try and improve the look of objects; it just preserves them.

Today has been truly interesting, and it has also been great to get to know my coursemates a little better. There are only 13 of us, mainly women, and of many different nationalities - Norwegian, American, Hungarian and Scottish to name a few. Tomorrow we will visit Birkenau and meet a Holocaust survivor, but the day will not be quite as long, which I think will be important both physically and emotionally. I am also pleased that I felt no nerves today, just a slight discomfort in viewing the hair, even for the third time - but this, I believe, would move even the hardest of hearts.